In the final few days of March 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak prompted countries around the world to impose strict border restrictions, causing significant travel disruption and leading Singapore Airlines to outline the most significant schedule cuts in its history for the months ahead.
With passenger volumes practically obliterated, one member of the fleet the airline first withdrew from service was an obvious choice – the airline’s 400-seater Airbus A380s – which bowed out of passenger flights on 31st March 2020.
Many of these aircraft were later flown to storage in Alice Springs, Australia, and in November 2020 the airline confirmed it would retire seven of its older A380s.
That will give SIA a future fleet of 12 superjumbos – pioneering jets it first helped to launch back in 2007.
Only this month we’ve seen two of the airline’s older A380s moved to the Changi Exhibition Centre for dismantling, with some parts set to be used in the airline’s forthcoming ‘upcycling’ project.
The A380 is back!
In what will be music to the ears for many Singapore Airlines fans, we now have confirmation that the first of the carrier’s Airbus A380s will return to passenger service from 18th November 2021, starting with flights to and from London Heathrow.
The United Kingdom was recently upgraded to Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) status, opening up quarantine-free travel to and from Singapore, and the superjumbo will of course be joining the party on the designated Heathrow – Changi VTL flight – SQ317.
“With the inclusion of the UK in the VTL arrangements, SIA has seen strong passenger demand for services to and from London towards the year-end holiday season.”Singapore Airlines spokesperson
All Singapore Airlines A380s returning to service are in the latest 471-seat ‘Version 3’ configuration:
- 6 Suites
- 78 Business Class
- 44 Premium Economy Class
- 343 Economy Class
Regional routes first
Singapore Airlines has also reported that its A380s will be deployed on an ad hoc basis on short-haul services for “operational requirements” prior to the London launch, presumably to get the crew up to speed on the superjumbo again after a long break.
We’d expect to see cities like Bangkok included on the roster for these ‘re-training’ flights.
Unfortunately without quarantine-free two-way travel with neighbouring countries right now, not many of our Singapore-based readers will be able to take advantage of shorter flights like these, but they’ll be fun to see nonetheless.
It’s been a while!
The last passengers to step off a flight operated by one of Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A380s disembarked 9V-SKZ, the carrier’s newest superjumbo, shortly after 7am on 31st March 2020, following their journey on SQ317 from London.
That aircraft remains in long-term storage in Australia, having been relocated there on 26th April 2020.
Back in July we predicted a likely return for SIA’s A380s to the network, after the shrink wrap was peeled off one of the airline’s newest superjumbos in Alice Springs, 9V-SKW, and it was flown home.
A further ‘Version 3’ aircraft with the latest cabin products, 9V-SKY, then followed.
From 18th November 2021 the flagship aircraft in the Singapore Airlines fleet will make a return on the London Heathrow route, as shown in the following schedule.
18th November 2021
to 26th March 2022
Airbus A380s operate on highlighted flights
* Next day
19th November 2021
to 26th March 2022
Airbus A380s operate on highlighted flights
* Next day
This service will replace a three-class Boeing 777-300ER on the SQ322/317 flight combination on a daily basis, meaning those lucky enough to already be booked in First Class will enjoy a fantastic ‘upgrade’ to the 2017 Suites cabin in either (or both) directions.
The important thing about SQ317 from London to Singapore is that it represents the airline’s only Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) flight from the UK to the Lion City.
This recently expanded scheme allows Singapore residents and overseas visitors to travel quarantine-free to and from Singapore.
Resulting demand from both vacationers and families reuniting seems to have spurred Singapore Airlines to dust down its largest jets to meet the (welcome) challenge.
You can find out more about how the VTL scheme works, whether you’re a Singapore resident longing for an overseas trip or you’re based elsewhere and are eager to visit Asia again, by reading our full guide to the VTL.
Fully vaccinated travellers can also fly to Singapore on VTL flights and transit to an onward destination, while roaming the shops and lounges freely during their connection.
These are the KrisFlyer award rates for the Singapore – London route, including for the (likely very elusive) Suites cabin.
Singapore ⇄ London
|First / Suites||125,000||220,000|
Don’t expect this announcement to coincide with a flood of Saver awards, especially on the VTL flights from London to Singapore, but hopefully things will settle a little in the days and weeks ahead.
We’d be surprised to see anything other than Advantage rates over the coming festive season on this popular route, but after that more options are appearing for 2022.
These include Saver awards in Business Class and Advantage awards in Suites, in both directions on the London route, which was the pre-COVID norm for ‘new’ A380 flights.
New cabin products
All 12 of Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A380s returning to passenger service will feature the airline’s latest 2017 cabin products, as we exclusively revealed in November 2020, so it’s no surprise that this first route back on the roster is no exception.
The biggest selling point of the newly configured A380s is the latest Suites cabin, located on the forward upper deck with a capacity of just six, three either side of a central aisle.
Two of the Suite pairs (1A/2A and 1F/2F) can combine to form a double suite if you are travelling with someone else.
You can read our review of the double suite on a flight from Singapore to Hong Kong in 2018 below.
Although Singapore Airlines stopped short of installing showers in the latest A380 fit, there are two large washrooms at the front of the cabin, one of which is so big it has its own separate vanity area.
We also enjoyed the ‘A380 Restaurant@Changi’ experience on board the new Suites cabin back in October 2020 – see our review here.
2017 Business Class
Another great advantage of the new Singapore Airlines A380 cabins is the excellent Business Class product, our personal favourite in the fleet, with 78 of these seats occupying the rest of the upper deck in a 1-2-1 layout.
There’s the option at the middle seat pairs to retract the divider for couples travelling together, who also benefit from a ‘double bed’ at the three bulkhead positions – Rows 11, 91 and 96.
This is our personal favourite among the airline’s Business Class seats, so it’s great to see it back.
SIA’s A380s have the airline’s largest Premium Economy cabin, with 44 seats in a 2-4-2 layout at the front of the main deck.
Each seat is 19.5 inches wide, with eight-inch recline and seat pitch of 38 inches.
The seats were first introduced by the airline in 2013 on the Boeing 777-300ER and are by German manufacturer ZIM Flugsitz.
A slightly narrower 19-inch-wide version is installed on the Airbus A350 long-haul variant, widely in service to and from Europe, so passengers usually appreciate the additional space these ones provide on the 777 and A380.Fun fact: The product differs slightly from the latest 2018 Premium Economy seat chosen by the airline for its seven A350 ULR aircraft, which are ZS35 models by Safran Seats.
Economy Class on the new A380s has the latest Recaro CL3710 seats, complete with the airline’s own customisation.
One of the biggest benefits is the latest IFE system with an 11.1-inch touchscreen, plus individual USB charging and shared multi-standard power sockets.
London Heathrow SilverKris lounge
In case you needed any further signs that travel is starting to returning to normal, Singapore Airlines reopened its first overseas SilverKris lounge at London Heathrow’s Terminal 2 on 1st September 2021.
The First Class section also recently opened its doors again in the mornings, to accommodate passengers travelling on SQ317 services, so it’s a more or less full experience at the London end of the route for the airline’s premium customers (sadly, shower facilities remain closed).
Earlier this month we published a full review by guest writer Callum Elsdon on the experience at the Heathrow SilverKris lounge in the post-COVID era.
That facility joins the only other SilverKris lounge currently open on the network – at Changi Airport Terminal 3. We reviewed the temporary facility last month, which now includes a dedicated First Class section.
In more return to normality, SIA has also reintroduced course-by-course dining in its First Class and Business Class cabins network-wide this month, and ‘Book the Cook’ is available for those departing from both Singapore and London.
Farewell old products
Only recently we were lamenting the loss of 2006 Business Class and 2007 Suites from the Singapore Airlines network, as it was confirmed all 12 aircraft in the future fleet will sport the latest fit like these new London flights will enjoy.
Here are our heartfelt farewells to products we’ll all miss, even if they were a little past their prime.
In Flight Entertainment
Another benefit of SIA’s latest A380 aircraft is the Wi-Fi system, which is brought right up to date with the latest Inmarsat GX Aviation technology.
This includes a free allowance based on cabin class, with those in Suites enjoying unlimited complimentary access.
In an enhancement last year, all KrisFlyer members travelling in Premium Economy and Economy Class on these newer aircraft also benefit from a 30MB complimentary allowance.
Free Wi-Fi allowance
|Class||Not KF/PPS||KrisFlyer||PPS Club*|
|Premium & Economy||None||30MB||100MB|
* includes supplementary PPS Club cardholders
Check out our full guide to the Wi-Fi systems installed and applicable access charges across the Singapore Airlines fleet.
The Singapore Airlines A380s also boast the latest in flight entertainment systems, including the personalised myKrisWorld feature allowing you to bookmark and resume your viewing on different flights, and to customise and save personal preferences.
This system is also available on the carrier’s Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s.
Singapore Airlines has not confirmed exactly which A380s will be reintroduced to service, but the daily London schedule requires at least two of the superjumbos to be reactivated, then there would likely be at least one backup, to cover any maintenance issues and keep the schedule ‘on the road’.
Realistically we therefore expect three or four of the A380s currently in Singapore to be reactivated next month.
Here’s where the current fleet of A380s are parked:
Singapore Airlines A380 Fleet
(14th October 2021)
We understand all six Version 1 aircraft (9V-SKF to -SKK) and one Version 2 aircraft (9V-SKP) will be leaving the fleet (-SKG and -SKH are already being dismantled).
That will leave only 9V-SKL and 9V-SKR to receive their cabin modifications, with that work currently being completed on 9V-SKQ.
It therefore looks as though three or four of the V3 aircraft currently in Singapore are the most likely to be reinstated for London services, and the regional training flights in the weeks ahead will give us some indication of which ones are coming back.
After London – anyone’s guess really!
SIA usually prioritises its London – Singapore – Sydney ‘kangaroo route’ flights for the A380 ahead of all others, showcasing its biggest plane and latest products in this competitive market to retain customers against competition from the Middle East carriers.
However, with Australia unlikely to fully open to foreign tourists until next year we could easily see some other cities pip Sydney to the post in these COVID recovery times.
Even a VTL between Singapore and Japan, which would stir significant demand among local travellers, could be a candidate. SIA was using the superjumbo on Tokyo flights, and occasional Osaka services, before COVID-19.
The airline’s daily Singapore – Frankfurt – New York flights could also be an option, restarting in November, though the route is very aircraft-intensive requiring practically three dedicated jets to serve week-round.
Another European route, like Paris (also open to VTL travellers) might equally be on the cards.
Stay tuned as we’ll certainly bring you news of where Singapore Airlines will be sending its eventual 12 A380s as they progressively return to the skies and schedules get confirmed.
Singapore Airlines really needed one of its key markets to unlock quarantine-free in both directions to justify returning its Airbus A380s to the skies, after over a year and a half on the ground, and the recent addition of the UK to the VTL programme has given it the perfect excuse.
Traffic between London and Singapore was already one of the strongest on the network even when quarantine was still in place, so the VTL introduction just before the popular Christmas and New Year period is perfect timing to bring the superjumbos back.
For passengers this will mean the airline’s latest cabin products are back on the network, including the 2017 Suites, and the increased capacity will hopefully filter through to improved award space in the weeks and months ahead.
Just don’t get your hopes up for any Saver Suites awards for the time being!
(Cover Photo: Mike Fuchslocher / Shutterstock)